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Washington's Farewell Address


February 22, 1862

George Washington

No Senate tradition has been more steadfastly maintained than the annual reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address. In this letter to “Friends and Citizens,” Washington warned that the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and interference by foreign powers in the nation's domestic affairs threatened the stability of the Republic. He urged Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common national interests.

The Senate tradition began on February 22, 1862, as a morale-boosting gesture during the darkest days of the Civil War. Citizens of Philadelphia had petitioned Congress to commemorate the forthcoming 130th anniversary of Washington's birth by reading the Address at a joint meeting of both houses.

Tennessee senator Andrew Johnson introduced the petition in the Senate. "In view of the perilous condition of the country," he said, "I think the time has arrived when we should recur back to the days, the times, and the doings of Washington and the patriots of the Revolution, who founded the government under which we live."

Two by two, members of the Senate proceeded to the House Chamber for a joint session. As they moved through Statuary Hall, they passed a display of recently captured Confederate battle flags. President Abraham Lincoln, whose son Willie had died two days earlier, did not attend. But members of his cabinet, the Supreme Court, and high-ranking military officers in full uniform packed the chamber to hear Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney read the Address.

Early in 1888—the centennial year of the Constitution’s ratification—the Senate recalled the ceremony of 1862 and had its presiding officer read the Address on February 22. Within a few years, the Senate made the practice an annual event.

Every year since 1896, the Senate has observed Washington's Birthday by selecting one of its members, alternating parties, to read the 7,641-word statement in legislative session. Delivery generally takes about 45 minutes. In 1985, Florida Senator Paula Hawkins tore through the text in a record-setting 39 minutes, while in 1962, West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, savoring each word, consumed 68 minutes.

At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the Secretary of the Senate. Early entries in the notebook were typically brief explanations of the practice, accompanied by signature and date. Often, several entries appeared on a single page. In more recent years, entries have grown more elaborate and have included personal stories or comments on contemporary politics and policy. In 1956, Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey wrote that every American should study this memorable message. “It gives one a renewed sense of pride in our republic,” he wrote. “It arouses the wholesome and creative emotions of patriotism and love of country.” The book's first entry bears the signature of Ohio Republican Joseph Foraker and is dated February 22, 1900. Links to selected entries are included below.

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Senators who have Delivered Washington's Farewell Address

Name State Date
Ingalls, John J. KS February 22, 1888
Manderson, Charles NE February 22, 1893
Martin, John KS February 22, 1894
Frye, William ME February 22, 1896
Daniel, John VA February 22, 1897
Lodge, Henry Cabot MA February 22, 1898
Wolcott, Edward CO February 22, 1899
Foraker, Joseph B. OH February 22, 1900
Bacon, Augustus O. GA February 22, 1901
Burrows, Julius C. MI February 22, 1902
Dubois, Fred T. ID February 23, 1903
Heyburn, Weldon B. ID February 22, 1904
Perkins, George C. CA February 22, 1905
McCreary, James B. KY February 22, 1906
Burkett, Elmer J. KY February 22, 1907
McCumber, Porter J. ND February 22, 1908
McLaurin, Anselm J. MS February 22, 1909
Depew, Chauncey M. NY February 22, 1910
Young, Lafayette IA February 22, 1911
Kern, John W. IN February 22, 1912
Brandegee, Frank B. CT February 22, 1913
Swanson, Claude A. VA February 23, 1914
Root, Elihu NY February 22, 1915
Johnson, Charles F. ME February 22, 1916
Works, John D. CA February 22, 1917
Gerry, Peter G. RI February 22, 1918
Frelinghuysen, Joseph S. NJ February 22, 1919
Pomerene, Atlee OH February 23, 1920
Wadsworth, James W. Jr. NY February 22, 1921
Poindexter, Miles WA February 22, 1922
Glass, Carter VA February 22, 1923
Willis, Frank B. OH February 22, 1924
Ashurst, Henry F. AZ February 23, 1925
Bingham, Hiram CT February 22, 1926
George, Walter F. GA February 22, 1927
Shipstead, Henrik MN February 22, 1928
Reed, James MO February 22, 1929
Vandenberg, Arthur H. MI February 22, 1930
Bratton, Sam G. NM February 22, 1931
Walsh, Thomas J. MT February 23, 1932
Glenn, Otis F. IL February 22, 1933
O'Mahoney, Joseph C. WY February 22, 1934
Austin, Warren R. VT February 22, 1935
Bachman, Nathan L. TN February 22, 1936
Lodge, Henry Cabot Jr. MA February 22, 1937
Ellender, Allen J. LA February 22, 1938
Taft, Robert OH February 22, 1939
Burke, Edward R. NE February 22, 1940
White, Wallace H. Jr. ME February 22, 1941
Green, Theodore F. RI February 23, 1942
Millikin, Eugene D. CO February 22, 1943
Thomas, Elbert D. UT February 22, 1944
Smith, H. Alexander NJ February 22, 1945
Chavez, Dennis NM February 22, 1946
Revercomb, W. Chapman WV February 21, 1947
McMahon, Brien CT February 22, 1948
Smith, Margaret Chase ME February 22, 1949
O'Conor, Herbert R. MD February 22, 1950
Flanders, Ralph E. VT February 22, 1951
Pastore, John O. RI February 22, 1952
Cooper, John Sherman KY February 23, 1953
Hunt, Lester C. WY February 22, 1954
Bush, Prescott CT February 22, 1955
Humphrey, Hubert H. MN February 22, 1956
Goldwater, Barry AZ February 22, 1957
Church, Frank ID February 21, 1958
Allott, Gordon CO February 23, 1959
Moss, Frank E. UT February 22, 1960
Butler, John M. MD February 22, 1961
Randolph, Jennings WV February 22, 1962
Prouty, Winston L. VT February 22, 1963
Muskie, Edmund S. ME February 21, 1964
Pearson, James B. KS February 22, 1965
Metcalf, Lee MT February 22, 1966
Cotton, Norris NH February 22, 1967
Brewster, Daniel B. MD February 22, 1968
Fannin, Paul J. AZ February 21, 1969
Burdick, Quentin N. ND February 23, 1970
Beall, J. Glenn Jr. MD February 22, 1971
Bentsen, Lloyd TX February 21, 1972
Mathias, Charles McC. Jr. MD February 19, 1973
Hughes, Harold IA February 18, 1974
Garn, Jake UT February 17, 1975
Hartke, Vance IN February 16, 1976
Hayakawa, S. I. CA February 21, 1977
Huddleston, Walter KY February 20, 1978
Warner, John W. VA February 19, 1979
Stewart, Donald AL February 18, 1980
Kassebaum, Nancy KS February 16, 1981
Inouye, Daniel K. HI February 22, 1982
Trible, Paul S. Jr. VA February 21, 1983
Lautenberg, Frank R. NJ February 20, 1984
Hawkins, Paula FL February 18, 1985
Rockefeller, Jay WV February 17, 1986
McCain, John AZ February 16, 1987
Sanford, Terry NC February 15, 1988
Warner, John W. VA February 22, 1989
Robb, Charles S. VA February 22, 1990
Burns, Conrad MT February 22, 1991
Wofford, Harris PA February 19, 1992
Kempthorne, Dirk ID February 24, 1993
Moseley Braun, Carol IL February 22, 1994
Thomas, Craig WY February 20, 1995
Akaka, Daniel HI February 26, 1996
Frist, Bill TN February 24, 1997
Landrieu, Mary LA February 23, 1998
Voinovich, George OH February 22, 1999
Moynihan, Daniel Patrick NY February 22, 2000
Allen, George VA February 26, 2001
Corzine, Jon NJ February 25, 2002
Chambliss, Saxby GA February 24, 2003
Breaux, John LA February 23, 2004
Burr, Richard NC February 18, 2005
Salazar, Ken CO February 17, 2006
Corker, Bob TN February 26, 2007
Pryor, Mark L. AR February 25, 2008
Johanns, Mike NE February 23, 2009
Burris, Roland W. IL February 22, 2010
Isakson, Johnny GA February 28, 2011
Shaheen, Jeanne NH February 27, 2012
Ayotte, Kelly NH February 25, 2013
King, Angus S. Jr. ME February 24, 2014
Hoeven, John ND February 23, 2015
Coons, Chris DE February 22, 2016
Sasse, Ben NE February 28, 2017
Peters, Gary MI February 26, 2018
Fischer, Deb NE February 25, 2019